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Celebrating the virtues of work on Labor Day

September 2, 2013

More than 500 visitors stopped by the Museum of Work & Culture on Labor Day to take advantage of its offer of free admission all-day Monday and also to participate in special programs, including a new one-act play and the opening of an exhibit on the Italian Workingmen’s Club in the upstairs gallery, according to Raymond H. Bacon, museum co-manager with Anne Conway.

“It went very, very well,” Bacon said of the museum’s 14th annual special opening for Labor Day. “I am so pleased that the IWC is celebrating its 85th Anniversary with an exhibit at the museum.”
The museum’s special events were sponsored by the Rhode Island Labor History Society and recall the city’s first Labor Day celebration by area workers on Sept. 4, 1899. This year, volunteers staffed various exhibits in the museum while wearing clothing of the day, such as the parochial school outfits Victoria Genrdon, a Good Shepherd seventh-grader, and Lauren Cenedella, a North Smithfield eighth-grader, wore to help out in the upstairs Parochial School exhibit.

Former Woonsocket High School Social Studies teacher Romeo Berthiaume and Erik Eckilson also performed a short play, “The Closing of the Social Mill,” about the impact of the mill shutdown in 1927 on two workers, Henri Bergeron ( Berthiaume) and Mike Sullivan (Eckilson).

The Social Mill operated at the site of World War II Veterans Memorial State Park on Social Street from 1810 to 1927.
The exhibit on the IWC traces the faternal organization’s founding in 1928 and its role of helping new Italian immgrants to Woonsocket adjust to life here.

Some of the people stopping by on Monday were seeing the museum’s offerings for the first time, and some as a repeat visitors. Haley Fontaine, 22, said she had visited the museum while in school a number of years ago and thought it might be nice to stop in on Monday.

“I remember it and loved it so I wanted to come back,” she said. Haley took along her father, Ed Fontaine, who had never stopped in to see the museum.

“It’s great,” the elder Fontaine said. “I worked for a short time at the old Greystone Mill at the Johnston and Cranston line so I know what it was like.”

Conway also invited Rick Beyer, the producer and director of “The Ghost Army,” to participate in the day’s activities and tell visitors about his new documetary tracing an Army unit’s effort to deceive the enemy during World War II with a variety of fake war products and missions, some including infatable tanks that were produced in secret in the city’s U.S. Rubber Co. plant. A local premiere of the film is planned for Nov. 7.

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